A lot has been written about evangelical support for Trump, including this excellent piece by Hollis Phelps. I share Phelps’s cynical view of the leadership, but for many everyday evangelicals, the picture is not so stark. They are not political nihilists seeking power and recognition for themselves, at least not primarily, and they do not have elaborate theories of how Trump is a modern-day Cyrus annointed by God to bring the chosen people to the promised land. Rather, for most of them, I imagine that what led them to hold their nose and vote for a man like Trump is the same thing that leads them to vote for Republicans every time: abortion.
That is the moral trump card, and now that it has literally led to Trump, I think it’s past time to ask whether it is really a moral trump card at all, or whether it’s just a convenient excuse to do what feels comfortable and familiar.
I will concede that the fetus is alive and is a member of the human species biologically. I don’t want to debate “when life begins” — it seems indisputable that some kind of biological life is beginning at conception. But does a life begin then? Does the fetus begin to live its life from the moment it is conceived? Is it the kind of being that even has a life yet?
If that question seems abstract, I’ll give an example of the kind of biologically human entity that has a life: a Latina teenager who is allowed to stay in the United States under Obama’s DACA program. It is stated in Trump’s plan for his first 100 days that he will summarily end that program, and that will ruin lives. This Latina teenager will be uprooted — whether immediately or over a grace period — from the life she knows in the US and sent to a place she likely has no memory of. All the hopes and dreams she has for her life here will be radically over, and she will have to start over from scratch. Maybe she will have relatives there to take care of her, and maybe her life will somehow be even better. But the plan does not take any of those contingencies into account — she’s here illegally and needs to be gone.
This policy shift will not directly kill her — though again, the policy doesn’t evince any actual concern for whether she lives or dies once she’s out of the country — but it will definitely uproot and destroy everything she has known as her life. And to support Trump on pro-life grounds is effectively to say that her life, which is actually unfolding, which she is currently experiencing, which she had planned and dreamed and hoped for, is worth less than the purely biological life of someone who hasn’t even been born yet. Is this the moral high ground, or a sick parody of moral deliberation?
Worse: the certainty that her life will be ruined is less important than the outside chance that a future Supreme Court justice will tip the balance in favor of someone who hasn’t been born yet, who has never yet experienced or thought or loved or hoped. Because the irony is that there have been Republican majorities on the Supreme Court more often than not in the time since Roe v. Wade, and yet they somehow never got around to doing what is ostensibly the most important thing.
And why should they? As soon as it’s repealed, suddenly the pro-life movement is no longer a monolithic voting bloc and can start considering other options. They have their locked-in votes from the evangelicals as long as Roe v. Wade stands, and they can get away with anything else they want to do — including nominating a man who is a virtual embodiment of everything that Christians supposedly oppose, and who barely bothers to give lip service to the pro-life position.
It should be a rule of thumb: when someone presents you with an absolute, non-negotiable moral trump card, they are not appealing to your moral sense. They are trying to blind it. They are trying to fool and manipulate you. And evangelicals have let themselves be fooled and manipulated for over 40 years.